Thank you again for your confidence in my ability to serve as Chairman of the Dutchess County Legislature. It is my great honor and privilege to work alongside you as together we build an ever more vibrant future for Dutchess County – a future based on a strong and resilient foundation. We, the Legislature, will continue our mission through the democratic process to establish clear and effective policy that moves this county forward.
Our membership reflects the many facets and diverse constituencies that make up Dutchess County. The best solutions to the challenges we face come when we work collectively and collaboratively. Your understanding of the needs of the County has facilitated the development of programs and services that have a direct positive impact on those we serve. This Legislature must continue to put partisan differences aside and focus on our shared vision of making our beloved County a better place for all who live here.
Serving the public as a county official is an honor that comes with much responsibility. We are in a position, each and every day, to respond to the needs of residents and communities and that does not come without real challenges. However, we continue to meet these issues head on and deliver the programs and services that county residents have come to expect and deserve.
Looking ahead, we must continue to aspire to create a better – more effective, efficient, and responsive – county government that serves those who live, work, and raise a family here. Working with County Executive Marc Molinaro, members of his administration, and all of our countywide elected officials including Sheriff Butch Anderson, County Clerk Brad Kendall, District Attorney Bill Grady and County Comptroller Jim Coughlan, we are able to identify issues and respond accordingly. I would also like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the 1,713 county employees who work around the clock 7 days a week providing services to our county residents. Today, we can point to some of those successes – a Resource Recovery Agency no longer in need of a subsidy, a jail housing out problem finally being addressed with a focus on driving down recidivism, a county that, in spite of a fiscal recession, has bounced back with an increase in its bond rating, and a 2015 budget that cuts both spending and the tax levy.
By working with local government officials, we developed innovative strategies to better meet the needs of our shared constituency. Over the last three years, this county government has committed $4 million through the Consolidation and Shared Services Grant Program. Working toward the goal of relieving the tax burden, this program gives local municipalities the ability to apply for funds that will be used to study and implement or enhance shared services. We must continue to strengthen these collaborative efforts and partnerships we share with the cities, towns, and villages.
We must persist in helping those in need – not with a handout but with a hand-up. While we begin to see economic growth, we must be ever-mindful that we are still recovering from the effects of a recession.
Please allow me to pause for a moment to acknowledge the upcoming retirement of Robert Allers, Commissioner of Community & Family Services. Bob has served Dutchess County for over 40 years in various capacities including, for the past eighteen years, as Commissioner of Community & Family Services. As a member of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services Advisory Board, I can speak to Bob’s stellar reputation at the state level. Thanks to his leadership, our Department of Community and Family Services stands as a model for excellence.
With the decline in caseload numbers and the rebounding economy, the needs of our constituents will not end but rather evolve. Human Services will, therefore, be a major priority for 2015. We must invest in community programs that will help our youth build the skills they need and our seniors stay safely in their homes.
With the amendment of $1 million to the 2017 Capital Plan for a Youth Services Center, children and young people will have access to educational, health, and athletic opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have. They will learn important life lessons that will help them to grow into responsible and productive adults and citizens. I had the opportunity to visit the Newburgh Armory Unity Center twice in the last week and have met with the Chairman of the Board William Kaplan. What once stood as a vacant building was transformed into a center of which the community can be proud. This past Saturday morning, I had the opportunity to observe the center in action. I saw scores of children along with their families taking part in various programs. These activities involved athletic and physical exercise programs as well as educational, vocational and musical skill building classes which are so important to the success of our youth. But maybe even more importantly, I saw the smiles on the faces of the children and their families participating, learning and interacting with one another. In the coming year, I will lead an effort in collaborating with the reorganized County Youth Coordinating Council, non-profits, and others in the community to develop a course of action that will properly provide programs and activities to the youth of our communities.
We must consider our senior population. Our seniors can be vulnerable to not only neglect and physical abuse but identity theft and financial exploitation. Our elders dedicated themselves to leaving the next generation with a better life than they had. We must follow their example and ensure that our efforts are directed toward providing them an environment where they will be safe, active and fulfilled. I would like to thank Mary Kaye Dolan, Director of the Office for the Aging, and her staff in providing assistance to over 13,000 clients and caregivers in 2014.
Drug abuse in this county is a real threat to our community. We need to combat addiction, especially heroin. It is killing too many of our young men and women, destroying families and overwhelming our criminal justice system and public health system. I would like to thank Majority Leader Angela Flesland and Legislator Gwen Johnson in leading the community discussion on drug addiction and prevention. Through education efforts, the public is learning how to prevent and treat substance abuse. They are also learning about Narcan – a drug that revives those who are in the process of overdosing. In 2014, 84 Sheriff Deputies were trained in the use of Narcan, and an additional training session will be offered in the year ahead. We are gaining a fuller understanding of the breadth of this problem. The Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene are working together to combat this public health crisis, and we thank them for doing so. We must be their partner and renew our efforts to stop this epidemic.
As a former police officer, I know the hardship that occurs for the men and women who protect and serve our communities. It is the chief function of government – protect its citizens and their property from crime. We have an obligation to make sure that law enforcement agencies have the resources to keep our families and homes safe. Only then will residents and businesses want to make places like the City of Poughkeepsie, a place they want to live, work and visit. Let’s thank our law enforcement community.
Lastly, we need to – and we will – continue to advocate for mandate relief. While forced to comply with a 2 percent property tax cap and with an unfulfilled promise of mandate relief by the state, we still have shown our ability to operate in a prudent fiscal manner while providing core programs and services. We know and understand our constituents, their needs and how to properly administer programs and services. That is the very essence of local government. If the state is so adamant about a particular program and its necessity, then they should administer and pay for it. We ask the state to allow us the authority to carry out these programs ourselves – without their oversight. My hope is our new state delegation understands that and will not introduce, sponsor or support any new unfunded or underfunded mandates.
The state has a surplus, and so in addition to mandate relief, the state must provide assistance to local communities as they rebuild and grow. Struggling taxpayers need greater tax relief at the state level. The state needs to address the cumbersome, complicated and unnecessary regulations that make operating a business in this state extremely difficult. We will work with our state representatives to make sure they understand our needs and to help ensure their efforts are directed accordingly.
It is never easy to balance the needs of community and family. All of us in elected positions did not get here on our own. I am grateful to my wife, Lori, and son, Christopher, for their support in my call to serve.
I would like to acknowledge our dedicated staff that includes the Clerk of the Legislature Carolyn Morris, Deputy Clerk Leigh Wager, Senior Stenographer Diana Viggiano, Webcast Consultant Patti Walis, Legislative Counsel Scott Volkman, and my Assistant, Catherine Durland. They enable us to carry out our business efficiently and to serve our respective constituencies- so thank you.
To Majority Leader Angela Flesland, Assistant Majority Leader Donna Bolner, Minority Leader Barbara Jeter-Jackson, and Assistant Minority Leader Alison MacAvery, and all Legislators, I want to thank you for your commitment in making this a productive and consensus-oriented Legislature. I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome newly appointed Legislator Dominick Ignaffo as he represents the people of District 4. As Chairman, I serve a dual role as the Legislature’s spokesperson and public advocate. When I speak of the Legislature, I proudly state our many accomplishments that we have made together for Dutchess County. Furthermore, with your continued support, I know that we will carry on as an effective and important part of county government as we work for a better quality of life for our residents.
Again, I thank you for your support to represent this legislative body as its Chairman. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly, and I will continue to do all I can to advance our mission and vision. I am eager to get to work as we move Dutchess County forward in 2015.